Breeze through customs with this freebie travel hack

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It can be a nightmare landing mid-morning or afternoon at major airports in the United States, much more so if a tight connection means you have to closely watch the clock while working your way through customs and immigration. As precious minutes pass—and you watch Global Entry-holders breeze through their exclusive line—you barely move two feet. Eventually, when you finally make it to the other side, you have 20 minutes to re-check your luggage, pass through security, find your gate and board your connecting flight, sweaty, stressed and out of breath—if you’re lucky.

Uhh, no thanks.

If you don’t travel often enough to want to apply and pay for the perks of Global Entry, you’re not necessarily doomed to spend hours in line with everyone else. You can still breeze through customs and immigration at most major US airports with this simple travel hack: Download the Mobile Passport app.

With a 1.5-hour connection in Los Angeles on my way home from Tahiti earlier this month, I put Mobile Passport to the test. My conclusion? If you don’t have Global Entry, Mobile Passport is the next best way to beat long longs and streamline your re-entry into the country post-honeymoon. Seriously, friends, the Mobile Passport line was shorter than the Global Entry line at LAX.

There are two versions of the app: Mobile Passport (free) and Mobile Passport Plus ($14.99 per year). Mobile Passport Plus is a premium version that allows you to securely store passport information and easily scan documents so you don’t have to manually enter information every time you fly. Regardless of which option you prefer, here’s how I used the app for a stress-less connection and how you can, too:

Step 1

Double check that your US airport of re-entry participates in the program. Most major airports do, but here is a current list as of 2019:

  • Atlanta

  • Baltimore

  • Boston

  • Chicago

  • Denver

  • Fort Lauderdale

  • Houston

  • Houston Hobby

  • Los Angeles

  • Miami

  • Minneapolis

  • New York

  • Newark

  • Orlando

  • Philadelphia

  • Phoenix

  • Pittsburgh

  • Portland

  • Raleigh Durham

  • Sacramento

  • San Diego

  • San Francisco

  • San José

  • San Juan

  • Seattle

  • Tampa

  • Washington Dulles

  • West Palm Beach

Step 2

Download the app on your phone.

Step 3

Follow the directions in the app to create your profile. If you have the Plus version, you can easily scan and store your travel documents before you leave for your trip, making your return super simple. If you have the free version, your information won’t be stored in the app. In this case, you’ll want to wait until you land at your airport of re-entry to fill everything out.

Step 4

Rather than complete the regular customs and immigration forms when you arrive back in the US, open the app and fill out the forms in the app. After you hit submit, you’ll receive a receipt with a QR code that you’ll present to the agents in customs and immigration.

Step 5

Find the exclusive Mobile Passport app line in your airport and present your electronic receipt and passport.

Step 6

Welcome home!

Since I chose the Plus version of Mobile Passport, before disembarking the Paul Gauguin in Tahiti I downloaded the app, entered my information and stored it—all within five minutes.

Fast forward through an eight-hour flight, and, upon landing at LAX, I collected my baggage and made a beeline for customs and immigration. When I got there, I followed the signs pointing me to the special line for Mobile Passport users. The line had exactly zero people in it. Considering the hundreds of people stacking up in the regular lines for re-entry, it was a welcome relief after a long night of travel to breeze through the process and make my connecting flight with time to spare.